- Contributed by
- BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
- People in story:
- Norman Wills, General Alfred M Gruenther the Supreme Commander Allied Forces in Europe
- Location of story:
- Lyme Bay, Slapton Sands Devon
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 24 May 2005
This contribution to People’s War was received by the Action Desk at BBC Radio Norfolk and submitted to the website with the permission and on behalf of Mr Norman Wills
In November 1943 my Father received a letter from the Admiralty telling us that we had to give up our home. One usually thinks of children being evacuated without their families, however, in our case the whole family was evacuated with everything we possessed, furniture, sheds and even the chickens! Although we only moved a few miles it had a great effect on us and our whole village of Chillington in South Devonshire.
We moved eight miles away to share a house in the village of Aveton Gifford. We had no real idea why we had to move, except perhaps, that our village and others near Start Bay were to be used as a military practice area.
American military vehicles soon began rolling through Aveton Gifford on their way from Plymouth to Start Bay and thousands of American soldiers marched through in single file on each side of the road. When they saw children the Americans would sometimes stop and make pancakes and we would beg them for some “Gum Chum”, but the Americans marching through the village often wanted bread and they would give us as much as 2/6d (12 ½ p), a lot of money, as a 2 lb loaf of bread only cost 5d (2p). To us the Americans seemed very well off and we envied their canned food, but, as we were in the country we managed to get enough fresh food and sometimes even Devonshire clotted cream on Sundays.
I really disliked my new primary school, where the headmaster was very strict. One day I asked the boy sitting next to me to stop talking, and for this I was given one stroke of the cane. I also remember the frightening experience of seeing local children being given several strokes of the cane for stealing rabbits from gin traps.
However my main goal at Aveton Gifford was learning to ride my Mother’s large 28 inch wheel bicycle.
On what was my 8th birthday, 6th June 1944, the American, Canadian and British forces left Devonshire and shores of Southern England for the Normandy landings in France.
In October 1944, we returned to our village of Chillington. The weeds were a metre high and the trees and bushes laden with fruit. We had to be very careful where we trod, for the Americans had left unexploded ammunition on the ground. Some of the other items they left behind for example tools, equipment and canned goods were very useful to us, however we learnt that the Americans had also suffered their fair share of hardship during the War as well. We understood that American soldiers and sailors died from friendly fire and were buried on a farm in the Parish of Blackawton, some ten miles inland from Slapton Sands. Later it transpired that 749 Americans died in Lyme Bay from German torpedoes and these were the bodies that were buried in a mass grave on this farm. This incident happened on 28th April, 1944 when nine German “E” boats broke our defences and attacked eight American landing craft in Lyme Bay on their 33 mile “D” Day training journey for a landing on Slapton Sands. Two landing craft were sunk and another limped back into Dartmouth harbour.
In November, 1987 a monument was erected to the American servicemen at Torcross on Slapton Sands.
Just after the war the Americans built a tall monument on Slapton Sands near the site of the former pre-war Sands Hotel. This was to all of us who had been evacuated from the area in order for the Americans to prepare for the “D” Day landings.
In 1954, I was invited by the Lord Lieutenant of Devon to the US Monument on Slapton Sands and by Captain WG Crawford to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth to meet the Supreme Commander, Allied Forces in Europe, General Alfred M Gruenther. As I shook hands with General Gruenther, I told him that I was about to join up in the RAF to do my National Service and he said “Good, we welcome you”.
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